The NBA offseason has brought many changes to rosters, coaching staffs, and the list of championship contenders. As we draw closer to opening night, it's time to move our focus from the potential impact of each offseason event and onto the broader issues that figure to define this season. The BDL 25 takes stock of, uh, 25 key storylines to get you up to speed on where the most fascinating teams, players, and people stand on the brink of 2015-16.
All things considered, everything turned out pretty well for the Dallas Mavericks!
So, they lost out on their top free-agent candidate, a young center about to enter his prime. Still, the team didn’t have to overpay to keep Tyson Chandler into his mid-30s, and it scored in landing the quite capable and versatile Zaza Pachulia for the pittance of a second-round draft pick.
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The franchise’s attempts to go over the top with a boffo former All-Star point guard failed, and he ended up leaving in free agency, but the Mavs rebounded quite well while pouncing on Deron Williams after the Brooklyn Nets’ payroll woes went a step too far. Williams, you’ll recall, was the team’s hoped for free-agent savior just three years ago.
Meanwhile, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews might be ready to play near the start of the season after watching their 2014-15 campaigns end due to injury, and the machinations with the lost free-agent center allows the Mavericks to pay an admirable leader like Matthews even more free-agent cash.
After these sorts of moves you then get to toss all these players in with a brilliant coach like Rick Carlisle, alongside recent Dallas reclamation successes like Devin Harris, Raymond Felton and Charlie Villanueva, all while Dirk Nowitzki’s game keeps humming along.
All of these sentiments are, honestly, genuine. The Mavericks actually did very well to carve out something after a brutal few months and, if we’re to be completely transparent, a rough four years in the wake of the 2011 NBA championship.
We know this is only a cheery, press release-version of the whole story, though.
Prospective and promised Maverick DeAndre Jordan was never going to put the Mavs in the Warriors/Spurs/Thunder-tier with his presence, but he would have served as an upgrade. He would have been making a very workable salary once the new salary-cap figures hit, and it was an intriguing idea that Dallas and Carlisle could find exploitable quirks in his game to turn him into more of an offensive force. Yes, Pachulia’s game figures to age well and he can rebound and shoot, but the loss of Jordan stings.
Then there is the emergence of Williams, who stands as an even sadder version of Tyson Chandler’s two bouts with Dallas. D-Will didn’t even bother to act as a tipping point on a championship team, as Chandler did, spurning the Mavs in 2012 prior to three massively disappointing seasons in the years that followed with Brooklyn. The Nets paid Williams to go away, and though there are the usual summer reports of Williams looking great behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out just what the 31-year old will provide in 2015-16 and beyond.
All on the heels of the Rajon Rondo trade, which saw the Mavericks giving up on not only Jae Crowder and the helpful Brandan Wright, but a first-rounder that will almost assuredly go to the Boston Celtics in 2016 (it is top-seven protected). We applauded the daring behind-the-scenes trade then as we do now, but things could not have gone worse.
You’ll notice a theme, here. This franchise takes chances, even when it’s sitting on its hands.
Dallas famously decimated its championship defense in the wake of the 2011 NBA lockout, refusing to pay through the teeth to retain Chandler while rolling the dice that Lamar Odom (coming off of a fantastic season as the NBA’s Sixth Man Award winner) could play three positions as Carlisle thought on his feet and exploited matchups. All while retaining the financial freedom needed to think on one’s feet. It was an understandable approach with terrible results.
That team went out in the first round, and next year’s Mavs outfit was the first lottery squad of owner Mark Cuban’s Mavericks career, counting full seasons in which he was in charge. The Mavs gave the eventual champion Spurs a scare in the first round in 2014, but the team was more or less an afterthought in 2015, especially after Rajon’s season-ending meltdown. All the while, the team failed to convince max-level free agents to come to Texas, rolling over that cap flexibility and the idea that “hey, Rick can do something with this” over and over again.
That flexibility is still there. Williams and Pachulia will make less than the average salary this season, and though Parsons and Matthews will combine to make a rather frightening (nearly) $32 million this season, the team will be possibly $37 million under the cap next summer with not a lot of damning cap holds to consider. The Mavericks will be the 18th-highest paid team in the NBA in 2015-16.
They might also be the 18th-best team in the NBA this year. If that.
Portland should fall out of the Western playoff bracket this season, but the Thunder, Pelicans, Suns and especially Jazz will improve. The top of the West is looking as stout as ever, the Minnesota youngsters will be a year older, and even the goofball Nuggets and Kings could improve somewhat following the Sturm und Drang that was their 2014-15 campaigns.
As it always is with Rick Carlisle, the on-paper combination of shooters like Nowitzki, Pachulia, Williams and Matthews alongside the versatile scoring game of Parsons could space its way into something special, but all five players have question marks. We still have no clue as to the severity of Parsons’ knee injury and subsequent surgery, and while everyone is rooting for the full return of Mr. Matthews, it won’t be easy in the wake of his Achilles tear.
What you have here is the 20th-best defense in the NBA now working without one of the league’s top defenders in Chandler, hoping that aging players like Nowitzki and Pachulia can hold serve, relying on Parsons and Matthews to return to full strength, begging Williams to just approximate the sub-All-Star status he worked in a few years ago.
We’re not reminding the Mavericks, or their fans, of anything they don’t already know. This season was always going to be a struggle, even if DeAndre Jordan stayed true to his initial decision. This is still going to be an odd, offense-heavy and hopefully not too-sad team in 2015-16, though. We just hope it does enough to convince Dirk Nowitzki to commit to his player option and come back for one more shot in 2016.
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